Climate change has made the odds of a record-breaking heatwave hitting northwestern India and Pakistan 100 times more likely to happen, scientists said Wednesday, as the two countries experience high temperatures that are disrupting daily life.
In an analysis, climate scientists with the UK’s Met Office found that the natural probability of a heatwave exceeding average temperatures from 2010 would be once in 312 years, but when climate change is factored in, the chances increase to once in every 3.1 years.
April and May in 2010 was used as a point of comparison because those months had the highest average temperatures since 1900.
Soaring temperatures in parts of Pakistan and India in recent weeks have forced schools to close, damaged crops, put pressure on energy supplies and kept residents indoors. It even prompted experts to question whether such heat is fit for human survival.
Jacobabad, one of the hottest cities in the world, in Pakistan’s Sindh province, hit 51 degrees Celsius (123.8F) on Sunday, and 50C (122F) the day before. In neighboring India, temperatures in the capital region of Delhi surpassed 49C (120F) on Sunday.
The analysis also made projections, showing the frequency of such heatwaves in the region would increase to increase to once every 1.15 years by the end of the century.
“Spells of heat have always been a feature of the region’s pre-monsoon climate during April and May. However, our study shows that climate change is driving the heat intensity of these spells making record-breaking temperatures 100 times more likely,” said the Met Office’s Nikos Christidis, who produced the analysis. “By the end of the century increasing climate change is likely to drive temperatures of these values on average every year.”
India and Pakistan are highly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, particularly in terms of extreme heat.
Chandni Singh, from the IPCC, said earlier this month that there was a limit to how far humans could adapt to such heat, adding that the heatwave was “testing the limits of human survivability.”
The scientists said that a new temperature record was likely to have been reached in the region during the recent heatwave.
Temperatures in the sub-continent have eased slightly in recent days, but the respite is likely to be short-lived, according to Paul Hutcheon, of the Met Office’s Global Guidance Unit.
“The heat looks likely to build again from mid-week, peaking later in the week or into the weekend, with maximum temperatures again likely to reach 50°C in some spots, with continued very high overnight temperatures,” he said on the Met Office’s website.
“Through the weekend temperatures are likely to lower again closer to average. There is also a continued enhanced risk of fires (largely from planned agricultural burning) in the region which would further add to the poor air quality. Some strong winds will lift dust plumes at times too.”